Twitch Rivals: Streamer Bowl II Brings in Video Feeds From Around the Country for Super Sunday Fortnite Fest
More than 90 at-home feeds and an XR Unreal Engine set in L.A. combined to produce the star-studded live tournament
The intersection of live sports and the gaming industry continues to swell, and Super Bowl Sunday this year offered another opportunity to throw it into the spotlight.
Twitch Rivals: Streamer Bowl II, streaming platform Twitch’s Super Bowl Sunday blowout tournament, featured massive online showdowns in the game Fortnite and pulled in a wealth of viewing hours (well over 1 million hours streamed). The event pitted NFL stars (Kyler Murray, Christian McCaffrey, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Saquan Barkley, Jarvis Landry, and Tarik Cohen participated) against esports stars, and, for the first time this year, with fans watching and playing at home in a $1 million prize pool for charity.
It’s only the second iteration of the event, but it was a major departure from the inaugural event, which was held onsite in Miami pre-pandemic. This year’s event was done almost entirely virtually, which required the production crew to pull in the video feeds of more than 90 players streaming to Twitch from their at-home gaming setups. Those feeds filled out the show, which was anchored by a physical XR set built through Unreal Engine in Los Angeles, where talent and certain master-control functions were hosted.
“While this was the first time we’ve had this elaborate a remote setup, we’ve been building towards this scale from a remote production standpoint in the cloud throughout the course of 2020,” says Steven Flisler, head of esports and content production, Twitch. Twitch Rivals did host larger events of a similar nature in 2020, such as Twitch Stream Aid (March) and Twitch GlitchCon (November). “The core of this is always the coordination with streamers/players at home [ensuring they have good PC setups, strong connectivity, and, of course, a smile], and communication across the entire production team. For us, those 90 Twitch streams are akin to 90 cameras on the field, just like any other sporting event, with a tad more risk built in.”
Stream to the Cloud
According to Flisler, the 90+ video feeds were aggregated into a cloud environment using tools developed in-house at Twitch and switched together via a cloud-based control room running on Amazon Web Services (AWS) and produced through NEP’s Cloud Workflow (a cloud-based production-control room). The vast majority of the production team was not in a centralized location but was, like the gamers, monitoring feeds from home. Only essential roles on set and in engineering support in critical areas were at the host facility in L.A.
“We have in-house technology that allows us to integrate all these feeds from Twitch into a broadcast environment, syncing them, banking them into teams with custom monitoring and admin tools,” says Flisler. “Ultimately, we featured 92 ways to enjoy the event on Twitch, including the main feed (/twitchrivals), a Spanish feed (/twitchrivals_es), and 90 player streams all with their own Twitch chat to experience the event in a way unique to Twitch.
“We also took a leap forward,” he continues, “integrating all of our official Twitch Rivals into the event through virtual screens in our XR arena. We were able to showcase a Verizon super suite that had live fan streams embedded in the virtual arena along with an Old Spice halftime show. We are constantly looking for organic ways to integrate our partners into our content to enhance the overall event.”
Coordinating With the Players
Besides the esports athletes, the stars of the event were the NFL players who participated. All of them are active players of Fortnite, but not all of them are regular Twitch streamers. This required Twitch to offer a helping hand to make sure that each player’s remote setup was buttoned up prior to event day.
“[We wanted to] position the NFL pros for their best presence on Twitch and build bonds with their new Twitch streamer teammates,” says Flisler. “Helping them set up their Twitch channels, teaching them how to talk to Twitch chat, and getting in plenty of reps of Fortnite led them to having a really fun experience that translates to a great viewing experience. From our first season to now, more NFL players are investing in better gaming rigs as well as their Twitch channels (Kyler Murray, Juju), which makes things easier as they become more native to Twitch.”
Big Changes From Last Year
This year’s event had a dramatically different feel as it was an all-virtual experience. The inaugural event was held in Miami at last year’s Super Bowl, deploying full-fledged mobile production units and a full LAN PC setup for the entire production.
This time around, the event required a major adjustment, not having a physical control room where the full production and operations team could collaborate in person. Fortunately, the remote-working environment, supported by comms via Discord and Unity Intercom, is something the Twitch Rivals team has all but perfected following the months of coronavirus-fueled shutdowns.
The other significant shift from the first Streamer Bowl was not having all players sitting down at a uniform controlled PC setup. For the Twitch team, there was a new variable with all players streaming from home and not being able to control the hardware, lighting, even the stream decks that they were using with pre-loaded stream graphics.
Syncing the Remote Crew’s Efforts
Despite its remote nature, this was a heavily crewed event with more than 100 crew members making Streamer Bowl II happen. Unity Intercom was used for primary line production comms, and Discord chat provided production and tournament administration comms. To keep an open line of communication with players, the crew set up an event Discord server with individual channels for each trio team, which comprised one Twitch streamer, one NFL player, and one Twitch community qualifier.
“This was the lifeline for how we communicated important competition updates, from lobby queuing to the countdown to each round starting and joining the battle bus and scoring updates,” says Flisler. “We also used Discord for crosstalk interviews with players, something we are continuing to try to harden so we can improve audio sync and quality along with ease of use for streamers at home.”
The ultimate master stroke of the event was the coordination of 90 players playing Fortnite competitively in their respective homes, streaming on their own Twitch channel and entertaining their personal audiences, while the main production juggled live crosstalk interviews with the hosts on the main set. Key crew members making it all possible included Mitch Rosenthal (production operations), Seth Hendrix (creative production), Ryan Chaply (broadcast technology), and Sean Keegan (editorial).
“It’s a massive logistics effort that is infinitely harder when everyone is at home,” says Flisler. “This is what makes Twitch Rivals special and a “hero-crossover” event like Streamer Bowl unique in the gaming and entertainment space. I am always proud of our team for paying attention to every detail and managing such intricate communications with each player and across the whole production and tournament admin teams.
“The months of planning by our production team and our partners to bring this event to life is something we are immensely proud of and something that we will continue to try and innovate well into the future for our community.”